Search Menu

AKC is a participant in affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to If you purchase a product through this article, we may receive a portion of the sale.

While some dog breeds were made for swimming — like Labrador Retrievers and Portuguese Water Dogs — other dog breeds can be less adapted to the water. Either way, if you and your dog plan to spend time in or on the water, a dog life jacket is a wise investment. Even strong swimmers can get tired, have trouble staying buoyant, and struggle to keep their heads above water.

A personal flotation device (PFD) for dogs is essential, no matter how good of a swimmer your dog may be. Here’s how to find the right life jacket for your dog.

Why Should Dogs Wear Life Jackets?

When it comes to your dog’s safety, there’s no such thing as being overcautious. Even the strongest swimmers benefit from life jackets because:

  • Not every breed is suited for the water. Some breeds, such as Bulldogs, have difficulty keeping their heads above water because of their stocky bodies and flat faces. Sighthounds, particularly Whippets, are less buoyant because they don’t have a lot of body fat.
  • Strong currents can prove exhausting. Beneath the water’s surface, strong currents could quickly tire out your dog, leading to fatigue. A life jacket allows them to conserve their energy and minimize the risk of drowning.
  • They promote visibility. Many life jackets come in bright neon colors, so you can keep an eye on your dog while swimming. That way, if you notice them struggling, you can quickly come to their aid.

Life jackets are also an excellent tool if you have a puppy learning to swim or an older dog taking a dip in their golden years. Both puppies and senior dogs have less stamina than adults, and a life jacket can help prevent overexertion.

Pembroke Welsh Corgi wearing a life vest swimming.
©mdesigner125 -

Benefits of Certain Dog Life Jacket Features

At first glance, many dog life jackets look the same. Yet, upon closer inspection, you’ll see that some have handles, rings, or adjustment straps. These features perform different functions that are vital in prioritizing your dog’s safety.

When selecting a life jacket for your dog, you may look for one that has a:

  • Handle. A handle on the life jacket will make it easier for you to grab hold of your dog if necessary. It also makes it easier to teach your dog to swim. You can guide your dog in the water until they feel confident swimming on their own.
  • D-ring. As the name suggests, a D-ring is shaped like the letter, allowing you to attach a leash.
  • Bright color. A life jacket does more than keep your dog buoyant; it also allows you to easily spot them if they swim far away. Some life jackets also come with reflective trim or panels, serving a similar purpose.
  • Adjustable straps. If you have a puppy or a young dog, adjustable straps help ensure the life jacket fits snugly as they grow.

Look for life jackets made with durable, water-resistant materials like polyester or nylon. Dogs who get in and out of the water may also benefit from a foam-filled “float coat.” If your dog is boat-bound, an auto-inflatable life jacket could prove helpful if they fall off the watercraft.

Golden Retriever swimming wearing a life vest fetching a ball.
©Wasitt -

How Should a Life Jacket Fit a Dog?

A life jacket that’s too big will slip off in the water. However, a life jacket that’s too tight will constrict your dog’s movement, impairing their natural swimming ability. So, how do you find a fit that’s “just right”?

A dog’s life jacket, unlike a person’s, should allow the user to swim horizontally. The straps should also enable the dog to sit or lie down. With a snug fit, you should be able to fit two fingers under the life jacket’s straps.

Here are some additional tips for finding the right life jacket for your dog:

  • Learn your dog’s dimensions before purchasing a life jacket. Using a soft measuring tape, measure the girth of their neck, rib cage, and circumference around the hips. Also, measure the length of their body from the base of the head to the tail.
  • Weigh your dog. Some life jackets are designed to fit a dog based on weight. If you don’t have a pet scale, weigh yourself and note the number. Then, weigh yourself again while holding the dog and subtract your own weight.
  • Do a “float” test. You can get creative with this based on your dog’s size. For instance, if you have a Chihuahua, you could do a float test in your bathtub. If you have a larger dog, first secure them with a leash or harness. Then, after putting on the life jacket, do a test run in shallow water. Be sure to note your dog’s range of motion, buoyancy, and life jacket’s fit when wet.

Dog Life Jackets vs. Life Vests: What’s the Difference?

Dog life jackets and dog life vests aren’t interchangeable terms for the same product. There are key differences between the two. For example, dog life jackets offer more coverage, promoting buoyancy and visibility. They’re recommended for boating and swimming in deep water.

If your dog swims primarily in a pool, on the other hand, you might be OK with a life vest. A life vest is typically lighter, covers less of your dog, and is suited for casual swimming.

Labrador retriever walking up the ramp after dock diving.
©LifeGemz -

My Dog Doesn’t Like Their Life Jacket. What Now?

While many dogs take like a fish to water, some don’t take to wearing a life jacket. Your dog may attempt to shake the jacket off, bite at the straps, or even turn tail upon seeing it. However, as with many strange objects and situations, time and familiarization are crucial.

Above all else, creating a positive association with your dog’s life jacket is a great way to get them used to wearing it. You can do this by:

  • Introducing them to the life jacket at home. Creating a positive association with a life jacket starts at home, not in an unfamiliar place filled with distractions. Allow your dog to investigate the object at their own pace.
  • Offering treats during successful interactions. When your dog sniffs the life jacket or shows interest, give them a small treat.
  • Laying the jacket on their back. Rest the life jacket on your dog’s back so they can get used to the sensation of wearing it. You may choose to strap them in once they relax. Afterward, reward them with a treat or verbal praise.
Related article: Taking Your Dog to the Beach: Tips & Safety
Get Your Free AKC eBook

Tips for Responsible Dog Owners

This e-book is a great resource for anyone who's considering dog ownership or already owns a dog. Download for tips on how to be the best dog owner you can be.
*Turn off pop-up blocker to download
*Turn off pop-up blocker to download